Maybe you’re renting out an Airbnb for a few weeks. Maybe you’re a student studying abroad for six months. Maybe you’ve just moved to a new country and haven’t the expenses to jazz up your new dwellings.
Sometimes the easiest way to make temporary accommodation feel like home is to break out the credit card, but retail therapy and a minimalist lifestyle make for uncomfortable bedfellows. It was only recently that I really started to appreciate the importance of feeling at home in unfamiliar surroundings, and so lately I have been enjoying exploring what I can do to achieve this without blowing the bank and sacrificing the minimalist habits I have been developing over the past eighteen months.
If you’re been following my movements over the past six months or so, you might know that I have recently up and left to Oxford in the United Kingdom. But one thing you might not know is that I struggled a little to make our apartment from a house, into a home. I know, I know, that sounds incredibly cheesy. But it’s the truth. I pride myself on owning few material items – if I own more than can fit in a suitcase, I start to grow antsy – but there’s no reason why those few material items can’t be special. If you disagree, tell that to the kitsch Darth Vader ornament I’ve been lugging across four continents.
Whatever your situation, here are six ways that you – the minimalist traveller – can make temporary accommodation feel like home…
Stock up on your favourite brew
In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams wrote that, “… a cup of tea would restore my normality”. I am not here to argue with such words of wisdom.
A good cup of tea can go a long way. If you have a specific type of tea that you always drink, stocking up so that you can make regular brews can be a nostalgic and joyous way to bring the flavours of home with you. I personally like a strong Melbourne Breakfast first thing in the mornings, and this brew has certainly helped to establish a semblance of familiarity. The homeliness of tea doesn’t just have to be acquired through taste either; the therapeutic effect of brewing it up cannot be understated.
Photograph courtesy of Kira auf der Heide for Unsplash
Something that I have noticed contributes heavily to the alienness of moving into a new place is the atmosphere of lifelessness. Have you ever noticed how, well, dead somewhere feels when you first arrive? It doesn’t exactly lend a helping hand when you’re trying to make somewhere feel vibrant and lived in. To boost both ambience and morale, I like to spruce up the place with some fresh flowers.
If you’re staying at an Airbnb – particularly one on the more extravagant side – some hosts will go out of their way to welcome you. You might unlock the door to your new dwelling and find a gorgeous bouquet of flowers waiting for you. However, for those of us that don’t have the luxury of such opulent greetings, we have to make our own joy.
I am by no means suggesting you go to your local florist and spend an arm and a leg purchasing a bouquet of roses. In my case, I like to wander out to the garden and just stick a handful of daisies and daffodils in an unused glass with water. I wake up every morning to this splash of colour on my bedside table, and they make me smile. Nothing more, nothing less.
Depending on where you are – I’m thinking alone the lines of Spain or Thailand – it is also relatively inexpensive to buy a small bunch of flowers at a nearby farmer’s market. Not only does having fresh flowers enhance your home aesthetic, but it is also an opportunity for you to nurture and cultivate something. This personal accountability can do wonders for your mental health in a new and foreign place. Furthermore, as they are living things, flowers do not last forever; ideal for the minimalist traveller.
Photograph courtesy of Nordwood for Unsplash
Bring the familiar to the unfamiliar
I mentioned above that I lugged a kitsch Darth Vader ornament across four continents, and I wasn’t kidding. My mother didn’t hesitate to raise her eyebrows as I struggled to close the zip on my suitcase.
Amongst my darling Darth Vader included a vintage world map, a Vietnamese fan, and a ceramic bowl in the shape of a cat. Throughout my travels, I also accumulated a small collection of postcards and art from across the Mediterranean, as well as a plush camel from the Great Pyramids in Egypt. Because, why not.
I tend to prioritise little things like these over clothing in my suitcase, so I can afford to be a little superfluous in my packing. But even if you haven’t the space to do so, there are still pieces of nostalgia that anyone can fit. Just as an example, if you are often troubled by homesickness, try slipping a birthday card from a parent into your laptop case. It will take up no extra room, and it’s something special to keep close.
It’s incredible just how familiar an unfamiliar space can become if you decorate it with just one or two personal items. I don’t usually encourage materialism (says the girl with the plush camel 🙄) but a little sentimentality never hurt anybody. This method also encourages appreciating what you already have, which is something sorely neglected nowadays.
Photograph Courtesy of Elsa Noblet for Unsplash
Reinstate habits from home
These past few months I have invested heavily in meditation, which has turned out to be an ideal exercise because it doesn’t require any equipment nor space. Throughout my travels and exchange experience, I would always set aside at least a couple of minutes every day to perch cross-legged on my bed, close my eyes, and practice mindfulness. Not only has it dramatically improved my mental health, but because it is something I only do wherever I am staying , it makes me feel at home regardless of where on the planet I am.
If meditation isn’t your kind ‘o thing, then other activities that spring to mind include yoga, watching stand-up comedy, or gardening. Anything would work really, as long as it is an activity that you would perform exclusively at home. Creating a strong mental association with that activity and your living space will help to foster positive associations with your new environment.
Photograph courtesy of Nik MacMillan for Unsplash
Not unlike reinstating habits from home, you might choose to reinstate smells from home. This is also not unlike brewing your favourite pot of tea, but instead of engaging your gustation senses, you are engaging your olfaction senses.
There is something so utterly healing about candles, I just can’t put it into words. I don’t know whether it is the dancing flame on the wick, or the soft scent that emanates from the wax, but what I do know is that as soon as I light a match, I calm right the f*ck down. Although this tip might involve some spending, candles are nevertheless an item that can be used. They will not last forever, and I think that part of their appeal is their finiteness.
A lot of places do not allow residents to burn candles indoors, but for those that do, I can strongly recommend finding a candle of your choosing and lighting it when you start to feel displaced. Objectively soothing scents include lavender and chamomile, but even better is if you have a scented candle you would normally burn at home that you can burn in your new lodging to restore the familiarity.
Photograph courtesy of Nathan Dumlao for Unsplash
Last but not least, make an effort to cook your favourite homemade dishes. When you are in a new country, the newness of the available food can be especially overwhelming; I remember returning home from Southeast Asia and craving nothing more than meat and three veg (this was before the vegetarian phase). As much as I had enjoyed the Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, I swore I could not eat anymore rice for at least a month.
If you are in a similar situation and the local restaurants are not tickling your fancy, try and stock your pantry with ingredients from home, and relish cooking (and of course, eating) food from your own culture. Cooking can really become something special and almost intimate if you see it as more than a means to the end of quelling your appetite.
Photograph courtesy of Clem Onojeghuo for Unsplash
One last note I wanted to make is about attitude. Even if you commit to all of the above, your new place is never going to feel like home if you don’t at least approach it with an adaptable and constructive attitude. People can find themselves in new environments both willingly and unwillingly, but if your priority is to make the most of the situation, a positive attitude is essential. Now, sometimes a negative attitude is necessary to get out of a bad situation, but if you are reading this piece, then I imagine that doesn’t describe you.
Making temporary accommodation feel like home doesn’t have to mean blowing your budget or surrounding yourself with meaningless objects just to make the space feel less empty. Home means something different to everybody, and once you figure out what your home is, well… that’s when you won’t need to read articles like this anymore.
In February of 2017 (lordy that feels like a long time ago…) I published a guest post on the Travelettes called How to Get Comfortable with Traveling. As I wrote, “I’m not talking about homesickness… at least, not entirely”, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably identify strongly with that unnerving feeling whenever you’re out of your geographic comfort zone. This article addresses that, and I am linking it here because I think that it’s very relevant to what I’ve discussed in the present article.
Let me know your thoughts.
Photographs courtesy of Unsplash.
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